At charter schools, high enrollment, low oversight bring mixed results

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 2:32 p.m. MDT

Mountainville Academy fifth graders do an outdoors science project on Friday, April 1, 2011. The charter school has escalated from a struggling school to an academically successful school. (Photo/Laura Seitz)

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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Across the country, communities continue to put energy and dollars into charter schools, despite the lack of both oversight and convincing results.

Georgia voters are contemplating an amendment to change the way charter schools are created and funded within their state. Proponents claim the demand for charter schools exceeds the supply and the amendment will help communities create more choices for parents and children. Opponents, including the Georgia PTA, argue the amendment includes no provision for parental involvement in charter schools and would create "a favored class of student" that will receive more state funding for attending charters than peers who continue in local public schools. Supporters counter that local taxes will still go to local districts, even when students from those districts opt for state-funded charters.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently proposed school districts create their own charter schools in order to maintain education funds and try innovative approaches to educating local students. Florida already has more than 500 charter schools, run by various entities, of which roughly 20 percent were classified as "high-performing" in the 2011-2012 school year.

A recent audit of the U.S. Department of Education's oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars of charter school funding found Florida state officials had no record of which schools received $67.6 million in federal funds. According to the Seattle Times, a Florida Department of Education spokesperson disputed the findings, saying the state keeps "excellent" records, but did not have them in a format approved by the Inspector General.

The same audit highlighted concerns with California's oversight of nearly $182 million of federal charter school funding. The concern over financial oversight is growing along with enrollment. Enrollment in California charters is at its highest this year, despite the fact that studies show charters in general have not significantly outperformed public or private schools.

Charter school enrollment is also increasing in the nation's capitol. Public school enrollment in Washington, D.C., is up for the first time in decades, with most of the increase occurring in public charters.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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